June 27, 2007 7:06 PM PDT

Senate takes step away from Real ID

The U.S. Senate took a preliminary step on Wednesday toward reining in the controversial Real ID Act, which is scheduled to become America's first federal identification card in a few years.

During Wednesday's floor debate over a massive immigration bill, Real ID foes managed to preserve an amendment to prohibit the forthcoming identification card from being used for mandatory employment verification, signaling that the political winds have shifted from when the law was overwhelmingly enacted two years ago.

The anti-Real ID amendment is backed by two Montana Democrats, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, who say the digital ID cards represent an unreasonable government intrusion into Americans' private lives. In April, Montana became one of the states that has voted to reject Real ID.

"This was a real victory for Montana and the American people," Tester said, after the Senate vote to kill their amendment failed to muster a majority. The unsuccessful vote to table it was 45-52.

The Real ID Act says that, starting on May 11, 2008, Americans will need a federally-approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments or take advantage of nearly any government service. States must conduct checks of their citizens' identification papers, and driver's licenses may have to be reissued to comply with Homeland Security requirements. (States that agree in advance to abide by the rules have until 2013 to comply.)

The immigration bill (Word document), which is backed by the Bush administration and has drawn the ire of many conservatives, requires employers to demand Real ID cards of new hires starting in 2013. It says that "no driver's license or state identity card may be accepted if it does not comply with the Real ID Act."

It also would try to siphon off opposition on privacy or federalism grounds from state legislators by offering fat checks--$1.5 billion over five years--with funds coming from the U.S. Treasury.

Baucus' and Tester's amendment (PDF) deletes the requirement for employer ID verification and says that "no federal funds may be provided" to states to create such a system.

Tim Sparapani, the ACLU's legislative counsel, called the vote a "victory for privacy and a rejection of building an immigration system on a faulty foundation, which was the Real ID Act."

"The way the bill was written," Sparapani said, "it should be seen as a Hail Mary pass to save Real ID from the scrap heap."

A political sea change?
Procedurally speaking, the vote was merely a preliminary one. The Baucus-Tester amendment itself still awaits a vote--and even if it is glued onto a successful immigration bill or if the immigration bill dies a second time, the underlying Real ID framework and deadlines remain in place.

That framework is estimated to cost $23.1 billion, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and could include Americans outfitted with radio frequency ID, or RFID, chips on the cards (the idea is being considered but is not final). Personal data that's on the back of the card in a two-dimensional bar code will not be encrypted because of "operational complexity," meaning any business or government agency that scans the information could record it in a database.

Politically speaking, though, Wednesday's vote could be a turning point in the national debate over Real ID. It indicates that a majority of senators are willing to curb the controversial system, which has already led to a kind of grassroots rebellion among the states.

The ACLU, which runs Realnightmare.org, says that 15 states have enacted an anti-Real ID measure, 10 more have had such legislation approved by at least one chamber, and 8 more have had it introduced in the legislature.

Homeland Security officials have defended Real ID as a way to limit illegal immigrants and to thwart terrorists from obtaining driver's licenses. Although some supporters exist in the U.S. Congress, key Democrats have said the law--enacted with minimal debate as part of an emergency Iraq war spending bill--needs to be reformed.

Other amendments (text document) to the immigration bill could affect any final vote on the legislation. One amendment, backed by senators Max Baucus (D), Charles Grassley (R) and Barack Obama (D), was nixed on Wednesday. It would have rewritten the employment verification system and provided more due process protections for American workers.

CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report

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Real ID Act, amendment, immigration, ID card, Montana

10 comments

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Do Not Stop Protesting!!!
Do not let this type of article put you at ease.
If you have watched the way things have been done over the years, they post news such as this to lull you to sleep and they will then pass the REAL ID Act. Protest this continuously until this thing is dead! Dead in the water.
Posted by BattleAce7101 (51 comments )
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This is true
A leader or representative of a state will only be led by a majority that benefits in the state's and nation's affairs. Then those left out their voice will be not heard and next thing you know we all have a chip of some sort on our hand or head. Controlled and no liberty on what the country was rooted from.
Posted by spluntflux2000 (1 comment )
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Exactly what is the fear here?
What's the differnce bewteen a state issued ID (that is tracked electronically) and a federal one?

I don't like the idea of the RFID if the data is not encrypted, because it could be abused. But if there was a lock on the card such that it could only be read when the owner unlocks it, whats wrong with that?

A voter ID card issued that actually records your vote (uniquely but anonymously) without any personal ID on it could enable a reliable and trustworthy electronic voting system. One that allows for immediate recounts, and reverification of votes without identifying the voters personally. Issued through voting places, etc. you just present valid ID and select an anonymous voter card from a bin at random.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
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The difference is FUD!!!
As it turns out, there is a national db of state driver liscenses. Having a national ID for voting and legal employment angers alot of people that wish this country harm. There are many here. It also concerns other people that are under the irrational belief that uncle sam can't and doesn't have the ability to track whoever they desire now.

You see, when people cry that G.B's election was fraud, they don't really want to have to prove that statement. When business hires people, they don't want proof as to wether they are legal or not. There are even people that do not wish to be tracked when they are planning to set off a bomb in say.... maybe an airport or something. Funny though, no one has offerred a viable alternative to the problems stated. Perhaps they desire the status quo. That, my friend, scares me more than a database.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
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Good For the Senate!
I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've supported the ACLU, but I'm with them on this one. I hope this Real ID thing disappears quickly. It's hard to see how terrorists could not defeat Real ID if they can defeat the controls already in place.
Posted by Jane in KC (94 comments )
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What controls?
We don't have any control. North border and south alike are so open a 10 y/o could walk back and forth across the border as many times as he wishes. And they do. But why sneak across when you can just fly in on a visit visa and then fade into the wordwork. There are no controls.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
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Immigration Reform
Senate Immigration Reform Bill Takes Step Toward the Grave ยท FOX NEWS ^ | 6/27/06 | EagleUSA.
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Posted by paroles32 (3 comments )
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And probably rightly so.
While the bill contains many good things in it, it also contains many bad things. It was a compromise. Compromising justice and fairness isn't an option.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
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